In light of the annual Shepherds' Trust collection for retired priests taking place this weekend (Nov. 12/13), here's a look at how Fr. Vitaliano Papais continues to serve the community as a faithful shepherd.
Retirement is typically defined by its slower pace of life. But this isn’t the case for Fr. Vitaliano Papais. In fact, he is striving to lead an active retirement as he continues to serve our community of faith.
“The joy of service and the happiness that comes from helping others – that is important,” says Fr. Papais.
At 83, this faithful shepherd is living out his priestly vocation in his golden years by celebrating Mass as often as possible.
Each week, he celebrates Mass in the chapel at Radio Maria, a 24-hour Catholic radio station evangelizing to the faithful. While both staff and volunteers participate in-person, the Mass is live-streamed via the station’s “Angelcam” as a media ministry to a wide and diverse audience.
Bringing the Good News to seniors is an important part of his current ministry.
Every Saturday, he visits the chapel at Casa Abruzzo, an independent living residence for seniors, in order to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to residents. Before the pandemic shuttered Masses at long-term care homes, he regularly celebrated Mass at the Downsview Long Term Care Centre and the Weston Terrace Care Community, home to more than 200 seniors.
As the world slowly opens back up, he is hoping to once again celebrate Mass and give the Sacrament of Confession at Villa Forum Long Term Care Residence, run by the Mississauga Italian Canadian Benevolent Association (MICBA), of which he was a founding member. MICBA provides apartments for low-income families and individuals with special needs, independent living for seniors and a daycare.
Fr. Papais fondly recalls pitching the idea of creating a multi-purpose facility for so many under-served populations to then-Mayor Hazel McCallion in the 1980s, who welcomed the vision with open arms.
“She embraced us and supported our idea, she said, because we were proposing something that the community needed,” says Fr. Papais.
Alongside celebrating Mass for those in their twilight years, Fr. Papais celebrates the Italian Mass at St. Alphonsus Parish every Sunday. He’s also on call at a handful of parishes for both daily and weekend Masses, as well as funerals. From St. Bernard de Clairvaux Parish to Transfiguration of Our Lord and St. Augustine of Canterbury to Sts. Peter and Paul, he’s always grateful for the opportunity to pray and to be present to the faithful.
His is a pastoral ministry – giving as much time as he can for home visits with those in the community who can’t make it to Mass. Sometimes he’ll bring Holy Communion; other times, people just want some spiritual accompaniment, or simply friendly conversation. He’s always available, he says. “That is part of our pastoral attitude as priests.”
Born during World War II, he grew up in Italy, where he was an altar server from a young age. The Church was always a big part of his life. As a kid, he attended a summer camp led by seminarians that left a lasting impression on him. Years later – when he was a seminarian – it was his turn to take on a leadership role at the same camp, helping with the formation of the next generation.
His pastor played a big role in discovering his vocation, he adds. “Our pastor was there for us like a good father. In every moment of our life he was there, giving us strength. He was like a member of the family.
“We learned how to pray and, at a certain point, how to jump in faith. Jump, and God is going to catch you. Trust and jump.”
And jump he did. After attending the seminary of Pordenone and earning an annual scholarship, he was ordained as a priest in 1964 and worked in various parishes.
He immigrated to Canada on December 13, 1979 – the feast day of St. Lucia, he remarks, one of the early Christian martyrs.
Over the years, he served as pastor at St. Fidelis Parish, St. Peter’s Parish in Woodbridge, St. Norbert’s Parish, St. Bernard de Clairvaux Parish, St. Nicholas of Bari Parish and St. Patrick’s Parish in Brampton. He recalls so many Catholic elementary schools being built in Brampton during his tenure as pastor at St. Patrick’s that one year he celebrated nine First Communions and Confirmations. He also served as Associate Pastor at St. Wilfrid’s Parish and Sts. Peter and Paul Parish.
And while he may serve the elderly population during the year, his focus in the summertime turns to young adults.
Every summer for the past 35 years (minus the last two pandemic summers), Fr. Papais has been and continues to be involved in leading the faith component of a trip for youth and young professionals to northern Italy. Young people from the Archdiocese of Toronto with roots in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region (which borders Austria) join those from countries with high concentrations of emigration from this region such as Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia and the United States as they explore their ancestral homeland.
“It’s cultural, but the trip is also about rediscovering the values of our Catholic faith,” says Fr. Papais, who serves as the Ecclesiastical Advisor. “A lot of the historical monuments are in the churches. The culture and spirituality go hand-in-hand. We are supposed to be Catholics in all that we do.”
For many of the young participants, the highlight of the trip is being escorted to a Sunday Mass by a procession of about a dozen local townspeople carrying banners representing various municipalities, alongside a marching band – en route to celebrating Mass with a local bishop.
If you ask Fr. Papais if he’s busy, he’ll humbly say no. In fact, he says he’s always looking for more to do. His journey in serving the Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Toronto is ongoing and he has no intention of slowing down. After all, a faithful shepherd never stops caring for the flock.
For more information on The Shepherds’ Trust, please visit www.shepherdstrust.org.